Kim Wyant: “It’s never lost on me that I am a female coaching a men’s team and the only one doing it right now and I’m always proud of that fact. And of course, I’m just flat out proud and enormously excited about going to the NCAA tournament.” (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
She did not take the job to make history or be yet a pioneer for a second time in her soccer career.
Yet, by guiding the New York University men’s soccer into the NCAA Division III men’s soccer tournament has put Kim Wyant into the spotlight again.
Wyant, the goalkeeper in the first U.S. women’s national team game in 1985, is one of a handful of women who have coached men’s college teams. There is no official list of how many women have coached men’s soccer teams at the Division I, II and III levels, but it certainly is quite rate. So, the Garden City, N.Y. resident is believed be the first woman to direct a team into the NCAA postseason.
The Violets (12-4-1), who qualified for the Division III tournament for the first time since 2010, were eliminated in the second round in a shootout by Montclair State University, 5-4, after playing to a 1-1 draw in Montclair, N.J. Nov. 12. That came 24 hours after NYU got past Haverford College in a penalty-kick tie-breaker after playing to a 1-1 tie.
“Our guys always play until the final whistle,” Wyant said. “This was just another example of our resilience. We are a tough team to beat and no matter what we’re always in the game.
“This program has taken a massive step this season. We have poured a great foundation,” Wyant said. “The many seniors who have helped build us up will be missed. But, they’ve set phenomenal examples for our younger players who now know what it takes to win and be successful.”
Wyant, 54, downplayed her history-making milestone in 2015.
Not surprisingly she downplayed her most recent accomplishment
“Well, I always want to keep the focus on where it should be — the team and the players because they’re the ones who have put in the work to get the team the results that we needed to get where we are,” she said in an interview earlier this week. “But of course, I’m the leader of this team. All of us deserve credit.
“It’s never lost on me that I am a female coaching a men’s team and the only one doing it right now and I’m always proud of that fact. And of course, I’m just flat out proud and enormously excited about going to the NCAA tournament.”
Wyant participated in the NCAA’s before — with the University of Central Florida and performed in a Division I championship match. She also coached the New York Athletic Club to the 2014 U.S. Open Cup women’s championship and backstopped the Long Island Lady Riders to W-League titles in 1995 and 1997.
“So here again I find myself in a familiar situation,” she said. “It’s just really exciting to get to a point to an opportunity to win a championship.”
When she tended goal for the U.S. women’s national team, Wyant was a pioneer as the Americans lost to Italy Aug. 18, 1985.
And here is Wyant again making history.
“I happily carry that burden and I don’t really feel it’s a burden,” she said. “But obviously, it still makes people stop and think, ‘Oh wait, this is a woman coaching a men’s team.’ It hasn’t gotten to the point in our society where it’s normalized. Now I suppose getting into the NCAA tournament and hopefully making a deep run will also start make people stop and think a little bit more. If it opens more doors for women, I’m very proud of that. But as you know, that’s not my mission. It’s not easy to coach. It’s not easy to win. It’s not easy to get to these moments. Coaching is hard. It’s hard and demanding. It’s grueling at times and its true if you’re a male coaching a male team or a male coaching female team or a female coaching a female team or in my case, a female coaching a male team.”
When Wyant took over the coaching reins in September 2015, the Violets were in crisis. Only one game into the season, long-time head coach Joe Behan due to a family illness. Behan had directed the Violets for 19 years. The NYU athletic department scrambled for a replaced and Wyant was named the boss only days prior to NYU’s home opener.
In 2015, freshman defender Niko Patrk felt things would fall into place.
“I just heard her track record and it was impressive, so … she knows her soccer,” he said at the time. “It’s just a matter of us building a bond as a team with her. That’s going to take a little bit of time, but it’ll come.”
Three years later, it was more of the same and then some.
“No matter who it was, it was going to be a shock because that’s a pretty intense experience when you’re one game in and all of a sudden you have to get used to an entirely new staff and a new system of play,” Patrik said after a 3-0 non-conference win at Brooklyn College earlier this season. “But I think she came in with a great poise and that also simultaneously calmed us down and from that point on we just progressed as a team. We are at a time now that we can reflect on that experience, look how far we’ve come and that gives us another chip on our shoulder to win this game and win more games coming up this season.”
Patrik said he was most impressed with Wyant’s “willingness to take on the challenge.”
“I think all the teammates realized that and we were on board,” he added. “So, she won us over very quickly and I think that in particular helped us to transition.”
Freshman defender Pablo Vargas of Weston, Fla. did not see any difference about being recruited by a woman for a men’s college team last year.
“That was no problem,” he said. “She was one of the most professional people I met. I looked past that 100 percent. There was nothing there.”
There has been plenty there this season. What the Violets have accomplished in the past three months have put their season into another orbit.
“I think it’s more special because of the history of I have with the guys, that i inherited when they were freshmen and now they’re seniors,” Wyant said. “I watched them go through this program, coming in as a freshman and having this dramatic event happen where the coach they were recruited by all of a sudden departs one game into the season. As freshmen you’re wondering already what’s going to happen in your college career. Now you have this very dramatic event that happens.
“All of a sudden you get this new coach, which is stepping into a very messy situation. And we went through this drama together. We built this program together. They were very focused as they came into their senior year about what they wanted to do and the legacy they wanted to leave. i think that’s what i feel the most emotional about and I’m really happy for that group of seniors because they’ve been through a lot. They’ve hung in there with me. They’ve dedicated themselves to the process and to the program and now they get to go off in their senior year in the NCAA tournament.”
Tuesday: Story No. 6